REAL would update the California Public Utility Code to permit “over the fence” sale of low cost solar power for a new generation of small solar family farms on agriculturally zoned land. These solar arrays, up to 100 acres in size, would be permitted to sell the electricity that they generate to neighboring properties and rural EV charging stations within a two mile radius.
If the Renewable Energy Acceleration Law passes, about 300 new, privately financed 30-acre solar farms could be built each year for the next 20 years. This would double the state’s solar farm deployment and enable California to meet its 2045 goal to decarbonize electricity and transportation
By 2045, 6,000 REAL-enabled farms could generate 11% of all electricity demand in California, while using less than 1% of the state’s agricultural and grazing land. Most of it could be on the 500,000 plus acres of unproductive land fallowed by climate related drought. These 6,000 farms would provide these REAL benefits to our state:
Faster transition to electric farm vehicles and tools will cut air pollution and public health costs by reducing gas and diesel emissions in farm regions, especially the San Joaquin Valley, where geographic conditions trap toxic air.
Anthony Wexler and Jonathan Greenberg co-authored REAL. The Renewable Energy Acceleration Law is the result of an 18 month academic and legislative effort created to overcome the challenges that are limiting the deployment of the renewable energy California needs to meet its mandated goal of decarbonizing electricity and transportation by 2045. It is an impact-focused, transformative climate solution legislation developed in consultation with dozens of climate and energy experts, entirely independent of funding by political, corporate or organizational interests.
Anthony Wexler is one of the leading air quality climate experts in the United States, having worked on air quality and climate since the early 1970s. He is director of the Air Quality Research Center and a Distinguished Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis.
In March, 2022, Tony co-founded the non-profit Climate Solution Advocacy Institute to develop impact-focused, transformative climate solution legislation, independent of political, corporate or organizational interests.
He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics at UC Berkeley, Master of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Doctorate from the California Institute of Technology.
Jonathan Greenberg is an award-winning national investigative financial and legal journalist and co-founder of the Climate Solutions Advocacy Institute, which developed the REAL solution, as well as its parent educational nonprofit, Informing to Empower.
Greenberg was a Web 1.0 pioneer. In 1996 he started Gist Communications, a disruptive new media company that competed successfully with News Corp’s TV Guide Online and was one of 14 winners of the first Webby Awards in 1997.
During the two years following the 9/11 attack, Greenberg served as Policy Director for the New York City Council’s Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, where he directed media and public policy campaigns and was the city council’s lead analyst for federal relief programs.
Jonathan is also the founder and CEO of Progressive Source Communications, which helps select nonprofits, advocacy groups and government environmental agencies directly build public awareness through people-powered digital media campaigns.
We need to gather over 560,000 valid signatures. In order to guarantee success we would have needed to gather 800,000 total signatures. No small task.
Unfortunately, we were unable to raise the $7 millions dollars needed to fund the signature gathering effort. Since 1987, not a single initiative has succeeded in getting on the ballot without paying millions of dollars to professional signature gatherers.
The state estimates that to electrify transportation and homes while replacing fossil fuels with renewables, it will need to generate 69 gigawatts of new solar farm electricity. But due to transmission gridlock, California has only been able to deploy half the annual output needed to meet this goal. Despite generous federal credits and tax advantages, tens of billions in private investment funding today awaits an up to eight year backlog for new utility scale solar farm approval.
The passage of REAL would immediately enable a new system of small solar farms and decentralized microgrids, which would bypass the larger transmission grid. For the first time, rural property owners would be empowered to pool the cost and benefits of low cost solar power by selling electricity to their neighbors. If 300 REAL-enabled 5 megawatt solar family farms were deployed every year for 20 years, the bill would enable 30 gigawatts of new solar generating capacity to be privately financed and built-at no cost to California taxpayers.
If the Renewable Energy Acceleration Law passes, about 300 new, privately financed 30-acre solar farms could be built each year for the next 20 years.
This could result in 6,000 farms generating 11% of all electricity demand in California by 2045, while using far less than 1% of the state’s agricultural and grazing land. Most of it could be on the 500,000 plus acres of unproductive land fallowed by climate related drought. These 6,000 farms would provide these REAL benefits to California agriculture:
REAL would allow solar family farms to be treated the same as rooftop solar projects in their county, subject to the same county-run safety regulations and inspections.
Currently, farms obtain their power from the electric transmission grid and there is a meter between the farm and the grid that records electric use, just like homes and businesses. This initiative would legalize solar family farms, which would have the same connections to the grid that rooftop solar installations now have. But in addition, these farms could run electric power lines from solar panels on one farm to other farms in a two mile (8,000 acre) radius that would use the electricity, and pay the farm that generates it. Since the solar family farm microgrids would have their own wires transmitting power, this solar energy would not run through the utility electric meter and would not be seen by the existing grid. Farmers would write their own agreement about how the farm that generates the power would be compensated by the farm using that energy.
There is a consensus among the United States Department of Energy and engineering scientists that microgrids and lower voltage decentralized solar systems that consume the electricity they generate locally are more resilient and less fire prone than higher voltage large transmission grids that must transverse larger areas, including mountains and hillsides, where they can be knocked over by storms. As reported here, four of the six most destructive fires in California history have been caused by transmission lines during the past decade. None of them were caused by the 1.7 million rooftop solar installations or the more than 700 large solar farms that have been built all over California.
Because commercial solar farms can now make a profit while producing electricity for just 5 cents a kilowatt hour, and because buying electricity from utility companies costs an average of more than 30 cents a kWh, small solar family farms could finance 100% of their costs, build new distribution lines and metering systems for microgrids, and still sell electricity to neighbors at a rate 30% lower than they currently pay.
To keep up with the expected doubling of demand that will be required to electrify transportation, homes and industry, California’s utility companies are expected to spend more than $30 billion on new transmission lines during the next 20 years. Each dollar spent costs ratepayers $3.50 to pay back over time.
By using local microsites to directly provide solar power to rural neighbors and EV charging stations, solar family farms would bypass the larger transmission grid and relieve it of as much as 60 billion kilowatt hours of demand each year, or 11% of projected 2045 demand. This would free up grid capacity to serve an increase in demand from urban and suburban regions, while sparing ratepayers approximately $10 billion in transmission grid expansion costs during the next 20 years.
The San Joaquin Valley today has some of the most polluted air, as well as the highest asthma rates, of any region in the country. REAL would improve the air and advance climate equity in the polluted valley by bringing fast, low cost charging stations to underserved rural communities. This will speed the replacement of highly polluting diesel trucks, tractors and farm equipment in rural areas.
During the past few years, more than 500,000 acres of California farmland has been forced to lay fallow because of climate related drought. If this fallowed land is left barren, air pollution will worsen due to increased toxic dust emissions. Fallowed land can be used to house solar arrays, which cools the land beneath it and reduces dust by allowing plants to grow.
Decarbonizing electricity and transportation is the largest single step we can take to avert climate catastrophe. The Renewable Energy Acceleration Law will enable grid-bypassing, highly resilient, decentralized power microgrids that would serve as a model for transformative climate action everywhere in the world.
Converting productive cropland would not be necessary. A small solar farm on just 30 acres will be able to provide 30 million watt hours of reduced cost electricity every year to properties on 8,000 surrounding acres, meaning that underutilized land will always be preferred. Today, more than 500,000 acres of agricultural land in our state are left unplanted because of climate induced drought and water shortages. Farmers need something productive to do with this land and farming solar can help them recover income lost from fallowing land.
We have added explicit protections for Prime Farmland, Farmland of Statewide Importance, and Unique Farmland into the bill; Solar Family Farms would not be allowed to be built on Agricultural land with those designations. There are also local county and statewide rules in place that make it difficult and expensive to convert productive farmland to solar.
During rainy days, participating neighbors who purchased discounted electricity from nearby solar farms would use their existing utility company account to purchase energy. During evening hours, electricity would be supplied by the neighborhood solar farm using its battery storage.
No, it will be completely optional. Neighboring properties will be free to enter into contracts to allow new solar farm distribution lines and meters onto their properties, in return for a 30% or higher discount to what they currently pay. Or to continue to purchase higher priced electricity from their current utility company provider.
The “over-the-fence-rule” prevents electricity from being sold across property lines. As a result, today farmers can’t sell the solar power they generate on their land to their neighbors, only to the utility companies, who then sell it back for as much as seven times as much as they pay to solar producers.
Agricultural land is a good fit for solar microgrids because farms have a lot of fallowed land, already use a lot of electricity, and will use much more once they transition to electric vehicles. Agricultural microgrids can also be built more simply than residential ones, which generally have many points of generation and connection with distributed energy resources. We hope to see legislation and even other initiatives focused on other types of decentralized energy systems. REAL focuses on agricultural microgrids – Solar Family Farms – because it makes sense to start with one type of microgrid. And more than other types of microgrids, solar family farms have the ability to make a big difference in accelerating California’s transition away from fossil fuels.
Transmission gridlock is the inability of the electric utilities to build additional electric transmission lines. Why do we have transmission gridlock?
No, REAL is not likely to increase electric bills for California ratepayers. Any increases to ratepayer bills due to farmers not buying future electricity from utilities will be balanced by ratepayers not having to fund additional expensive transmission lines or large scale power facilities in areas where solar family farms are built. Electricity demand in the state is projected to double by 2045 as more than $80 billion in gasoline and diesel sales are replaced by electricity needed for EV’s. This will provide more than enough revenue to replace rural ratepayers that generate renewable energy locally.